A place to remember

What to look forward to as the preparations for Placemaking Week 2017 in Amsterdam are on their way.

The beginning of June marked the first meet-up of the Placemaking Week 2017 team at Pakhuis de Zwijger, the headquarters of the placemaking conference in October. The collective comprised of Project for Public Spaces, Stipo, Pakhuis de Zwijger, The City at Eye Level and Placemaking Plus got together with local placemakers from Amsterdam to share experiences and ideas in preparation of the Placemaking Week. With the registration for the event now open, here are a couple of highlights from the meet-up that show why Placemaking Week is the ‘place to be’ in October.

There is no placemaking without public space 

All great examples of placemaking highlight the relevance of qualitative public space for citizens. Public spaces represent focal points within a city, as they are open and accessible to people.  However, the manner in which public spaces are designed to function is less straightforward. Open spaces are becoming more privatised, the design of spaces neglects the needs of the community, and the process of transformation comes from a top-down perspective. As Hans Karssenberg, partner at Stipo, noted during the Placemaking Week meet-up, there are several typologies of open spaces that are key to placemaking and have the potential to improve the urban dynamics: great streets, places where people intuitively want to stay longer, spaces with a local ownership and a human scale connection with the built environment.

What is public space? ©Herman Weeda

‘Placemaking is fundamental to understanding how to improve cities.’ – Hans Karssenberg, Partner Stipo

It is within these small open spaces that social life is constructed and our cities are becoming more resilient.

Making places from spaces 

Social interaction and shared values transform the physical nature of an urban space into a place that holds emotional substance. This is the essence of placemaking. However, this implies that placemaking is a complex social system, that needs to be adapted based on the sensitivities of local contexts. If we talk about placemaking, we have to talk about everything we see, from the actual street, to the corner shop, surrounding buildings and the old man feeding the birds.

The complexities of placemaking ©Herman Weeda

‘Cities are social forms not built forms.’ – Ethan Kent, Senior Vice President Project for Public Spaces

Mind the gap 

One of the main debates over placemaking involves the relationship between the local community, top-down institutions and investors. During the Placemaking Week meet-up, a representative from the Municipality of Amsterdam talked about his institutional role on the same stage as three local bottom-up  initiatives, underlining the fact that a collaborative development can achieve faster change. Benches Collective, Lola Lik and De BuurtCamping are three initiatives from Amsterdam that tackle the notion of placemaking with very simple means, from camping tents to chairs, benches and open air cinemas. Their presentations at the meet-up showed that the practicalities of placemaking are quite basic in nature, pointing towards the fact that the intricate decision-making processes are the ones that pose more complications. Once again, we are reminded that placemaking resides at multi-scalar levels of city-making, somewhat ‘stuck in the middle’ between institutional goals and citizens’ expectations.

Different types of placemaking in Amsterdam ©Herman Weeda

The multi-scalar characteristic of placemaking has led the practice to be often misunderstood as ‘tactical urbanism’, as temporary and bottom-up interventions, often even against institutional decisions. It is usually seen as an empowering means through which citizens can reclaim their city. What came up during the meet-up in Amsterdam, and will be more thoroughly discussed during the Placemaking Week in October, was it’s ideal execution as a multi-stakeholder approach/process towards good public spaces, in which project developers/municipality/designers/placemakers work together. Although the rise of local placemaking initiatives comes as a response to top-down institutional mistakes, a collaborative framework can achieve a wider range of projects that build bridges between informal and formal networks. How could this collaborative framework be constructed in terms of decision-making processes and implementation?

Food for thought 

As the registration for Placemaking Week is now open, all these topics and more will be widely discussed during the four-day conference. The practice of placemaking will be analysed at various angles, from policy-making to actual implementation, innovation, and collaboration either in formal or informal networks.

The complex system of placemaking ©Herman Weeda

The content of the Placemaking Week 2017 will be centered around 4 themes:

1 – Placemaking & Innovation: From isolated campuses to hubs of opportunity

2 – Equity, Health & Well-being: From “band-aid” solutions to stopping problems where they start

3 – Streets as Places & Transportation: From streets we go through to streets we go to

4- Place-led Development & City Making: From one-off projects to systemic change

Read more about the conference on the website of Placemaking Week 2017.

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